While the existence of queer life is obviously not a new phenomenon, one of the earliest recordings of queer life at Lafayette only begins in the late 1960s. Coincidentally, or perhaps not so much so, this time ushered in both the transition of the institution becoming coeducational, a rise in student activism, and the creation of the Association of Black Collegians (ABC) which advocated strongly for a more equitable educational experience for Black students on campus. Riley Temple, class of 1971, is a renowned figure at the college for many reasons. As one of the founding members of the Association of Black Collegians, member and eventually president of the, now defunct, Pi-Lambda Phi fraternity, member of Student Government as well as a variety of other student organizations, Riley Temple ‘71 is also the first Black gay man to serve on the Board of Trustees. In reading his interview for the Queer Archives Project, Temple speaks a lot about what it meant to be both a Black and gay student at Lafayette in the late 60s.
Immediately after discussing formalities, Temple agreeably dives head first into discussing his experiences. When asked about being gay on campus, Temple responds:
I cannot talk about being openly gay on the campus without also talking about being African American. The two went hand-in-hand for me, obviously. And in 1967, it was two decades, no, a decade and three years, 13 years, after Brown vs. Board of Education. It was four years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and then two years after the Voting Rights Act of 1965. We were a country in transition. It was very clear. [11:09-11:50]
Although Lafayette had been desegregated for 20 years, Temple states that he attended Lafayette with only 10 other Black students. While this community eventually banned together on the basis of shared experiences of racial discrimination to make change, “There was no community” known for queer identified students [11:05-11:06]. When considering the ways in which queerness existed on Lafayette’s campus during this time period, either simply not acknowledged or overtly ridiculed, it is not surprising that students did not openly ban together and expose this identity to their fellow students.
While Temple speaks beautifully of a coming out experience to a friend on campus who simply asked why he did not feel comfortable earlier in their relationship to share this information about himself, his experiences at Lafayette were not all positively memorable. Temple recalls two striking moments in which his sexuality was not only called into question, but ridiculed and used as excuse for harassment. Temple assumed that he wouldn’t have to “be abused by straight guys, because the white guys [would not] know what [he was]. They [wouldn’t] know what being a Black homosexual [was] all about” [15:41-15:51]. However, this lasted only for a couple months, as he was accosted in his dorm room hallway by one of his neighbors who stated “You know, I thought you were here on a football scholarship, until I saw you walk down the hall” [16:30-16:33]. This statement, loaded with both racialized and sexualized connotations, not only brought to attention Temple inhabiting both of these identities, but attempted to demasculinize Temple on the basis of both of these identities as well. A year later, Temple found himself in his dorm room when another male student walked into his room, “[took]out his penis and flopped it down onto the desk beside [him]” and then said “These other guys don’t know who you are, but I know what’s going on. You want this, don’t you?” [20:34- 20:54]. While Temple graciously dealt with the situation with humor, it cannot be assumed that this happened without regard for his race. Whether because of the assumption that Temple did not know socially know anyone to relay the situation to, or because the perpetrator knew that institutionally Temple would not receive support if he wished to report this situation because of his own demand for more institutional support, Temple was targeted to be on the receiving end of this act because of both his Blackness and his queerness.
Both of these interactions are examples of the ways in which race and sexuality interacted with each other and contributed to Temple’s overall experience. However, more often than not, Temple speaks of how most people either knew or did not know because they did not want to, and did not acknowledge it with him present. Most people instead chose “Nothing more [and] Just let it go” [26:22 - 26:32]